Witze: More than fifteen months after landing in Jezero Crater on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover has finally begun its hunt for ancient life in earnest.
Davide Castelvecchi: Chemists say they have solved a crucial problem in a theory of life’s beginnings, by demonstrating that RNA molecules can link short chains of amino acids together.
This matters to us because it bears on the fate of science in general, as China becomes a global superpower. Nature Editorial: “Such trends are likely to continue if geopolitical tensions with the United States worsen. That would be regrettable.” No, it wouldn’t be “regrettable.” Not so long as China cannot be trusted.
First response: Stuff it. Absolutely. Stuff it. Given the way governments goofed big time throughout the pandemic, doubt about vaccines is a reasonable reaction, if not a correct one. A recent poll shows that nearly half of the vaccine doubters are worried about side effects.
Nature was founded in 1869. Between then and now, many U.S. Prezzes have come and gone. The puzzling part is why Nature (and stablemate Scientific American) would throw themselves into the fray like this, as if they had no reputation or credibility, apart from politics, to defend. If it’s all really about politics, fine. Many suspected that but no one could prove it. Now, any statement made on behalf of “science” will be wisely read as on behalf of “politics.” That will harm genuinely urgent causes the most. When there’s no daylight between “Stop plastic in the oceans!” and “Vote for Schmeezer!”, most people will make up their own mind about plastic in the oceans/Schmeezer. The authority of science becomes indistinguishable from Schmeezer’s media outreach. Well, at least they brought it on themselves.
Sheldon: My best explanation is that the editors of Nature, SciAm, NEJM are themselves not research scientists, but political hacks—hired under the supposition that good relations with government funders required not science but PR.
As with many things done today, I always wonder are they extreme cynics or just very stupid? But whatever they are, science will never again regain the status they covet so intensely.
No one says Nature can’t be active in politics and publish screeds of this type. What its staff can’t do—because nobody can—is be both a participant and a referee. They’ve chosen to be participants, fine. Then, “Listen to science” has as much clout as “Listen to the union boss” and “Listen to the corporate head office.” Which is to say, the next time they bellyache that people don’t listen to science, all one can respond is, “Take a number and wait. Meanwhile, suck it up.”
Much that is called science denial today is not “cynical and self-serving”; it is fed-upness with approved rubbish marketed as science because it suits a popular current philosophy.